The bond between canine and human is built on a power imbalance. We
are in control of food, shelter and all other resources that the dog needs. Human’s are in a unique position to define the relationship according our values and ideals. We tell stories about dogs and interpret dog’s behaviour through the human behavioural lens. Think of Lassie!
This power imbalance is part of the frame of reference for how we process information relating to the capacities and motivations of the dog. If, for example, we see our dog is a 'dumb animal' we may feel comfortable using aversives and training our dogs to follow our commands. They exist to serve after all. However, if we see our dog as a family member we may overfeed them to show our love. How we relate to our dogs is largely defined by our frame of reference and not not our dogs.
Many dog owners buy or adopt a dog because (they envisage) that it meets their own needs to do so, otherwise they would not do so. We'd get a cat or have a holiday instead. Often though we aren't particularly aware of the needs we have that we expect our dog to meet, be it for companionable walks, sofa cuddles or as our family. This means that our frame of reference is often more implicit than explicit.
One of the pivotal aspects of that frame of reference is that the ‘owner’ has acquired what is legally a possession with an insurable replacement value. In becoming the dog's 'owner' we take a small step towards defining a dog as lacking in sentience or their own agency.
Some vets and trainers may refer to you as the dog's guardian as a way of acknowledging the dog's rights to choice and fulfillment. Dog's have their own version of Adrian Maslow's (perhaps outdated) Hierarchy of Needs and these needs extend far beyond the purely physiological. Linda Michael's has published a Dog's Heirarchy of Needs here https://www.intodogs.org/resources/hierarchy-of-needs/#page-content. I'd also thoroughly recommend Marc Bekoff's "When Elephants Weep" for a change of frame of reference!
By having a clearer and more accurate frame of reference we are able to develop a more reciprocal relationship with our dogs in which they can actively and fully participate.
There are SO many different laws which you need to follow, for new dog owners it's hard to know where to start.
Dog owners need to comply with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes owners responsible for their dog’s welfare and specifically the five welfare needs. These fall into the categories of diet, freedom to exhibit normal behaviour, social contact, environment, and health. You could be prosecuted under this act for leaving your dog in a hot car for instance. However, the five needs can vary significantly between dogs and some owners could need the support of a professional to identify what is, for instance, the right amount of social contact or the right environment for their specific dog. Note that there is no formal requirement to exercise or train a dog. However, the Highway code requires dogs to be suitably restrained when travelling in a car.
The dog fouling act 2016 makes dogs responsible for clearing up fouling in all public places, apart from where it would be dangerous to do so e.g. on the side of a cliff edge. This means that owners need to carry poo bags and to pick up when they are out. With recent changes to council bins this may mean searching out a suitable bin or taking the poo home to dispose of.
Since 2016 all dogs have to be microchipped. This means that any reputable breeder should ensure their puppies are chipped. Where an informal adoption takes place and the dog was born before 2016 then the owners will need to check that the dog is chipped. Owners also need to ensure that their details are kept up to date on a register such as PetLog, however, there is more than one register. Stray dogs can be scanned and if the details on the register are up to date, returned to their owners.
All dogs must wear a collar with Identification tags or plates whenever they are in a public place according to the Control of Dogs Act 1992. Every dog while on a public highway or place of public resort must wear a collar with the name and address (including postcode) of the owner inscribed on it or a plate or badge attached to it. It is also advisable to have your telephone number as well so that you can be contacted in the event that someone finds your dog. Without a collar, your dog is more likely to be treated as a stray dog.
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 owners need to keep their dogs under control in a public place and to ensure that members of the public or other owners are not fearful or apprehensive as a result of their dog. In reality this means that if an owner lets their dog off the lead then owners need to be able recall their dog. In addition, any dogs of a banned type (identified under the DDA) will need to be registered, neutered, kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in a public place. There is no requirement for owner to attend any training unless a behavioural assessment is mandated under the DDA.
In addition, dogs should not be allowed to bark excessively such that it interferes unreasonably with the comfort of your neighbours. There are more, such as relates to worrying livestock but the above is a good starting point. As a new owner it's well worth looking up the Animal Welfare Act and the codes of practice for owners.
What is a crate and how to set it up
A crate is an indoor kennel which gives your dog a place of their own. They are often sold as metal or part metal/part plastic cage over which you can drape heavy blankets to create a den for your dog. There are also more solid plastic ones available which double as a carrying device for transportation. A quiet room or area towards the back of the house is ideal, out of direct sunlight but with natural light and ventilation too. Often a utility area works well. This crate is your dog’s bedroom so you should provide them with soft blankets for nesting, fresh water for drinking and a range of toys too. You’ll also need to make sure that you keep the children and/or other pets away. This is your dog's sanctuary.
Giving your dog their own space can help them to feel safe. Dogs who suffer from anxiety often do better if they have a small safe space of their own rather than access to the whole house which can lead to them fixating at what they see out of windows or trailing around behind you all over the house. Worse still when you go out your dog may patrol the house and wait anxiously for you to return. If your dog falls asleep in their crate on a regular basis they will gradually learn to relax more and more quickly when they are in their crate. Puppies who sleep in a crate are often easier to house-train and are less likely to get into bad habits chewing on furniture or shoes. Finally, remember that if your dog ever has to go into kennels, boarding or for a stay at the vets they may well be confined to a crate so it is well worth ensuring that they are used to the experience well before they have to go.
Is it cruel?
A lot of people instinctively feel that a crate is like a prison. I would not want to live in a crate. It would be a prison.
However, I do sleep a bed in a bedroom. Every night. I don’t randomly fall asleep by the front door or on the stairs. Once I’ve gone to bed, I stay there all night. In one room, without a huge amount of space. I can’t even do any stretches or yoga in there, but I can walk around two sides of the bed and I can have a glass of water by the bed. I don’t routinely patrol the house at night because I’d wake the children and dogs.
Neither do I encourage my children to wander round the house and fall asleep wherever they see fit. They sleep in a bed in their own room and have a bed-time after which they are expected to be quiet. If you have children you may also have realised that ‘sending them to their rooms’ for some dreadful misdemeanour stops being any sort of punishment as they become adolescents. Instead, for them, it is a relief to go to their own space and they start to go there of their own volition if you have visitors with whom they have nothing in common.
A crate should fulfil a similar purpose for our dogs and it is not a replacement for walks, access to novel environments, access to lots of smells, socialising, games and training. It is just a place for them to sleep and for them to go to for safety and when we have visitors that do not concern them. It is a natural instinct for dogs to fall asleep in small and cozy confined spaces.
How to ‘train’ the crate
In order for your dog to want to be in their crate you need to build lots of positive associations to being there. You can feed them in their crate and make sure that any chews or treats magically appear in their crate rather than coming from you. You can play with them in or near their crates, fetching a toy from the crate or running through a tunnel into their crate or searching for treats hidden in the crate, snuffle mats are great for this. They can learn to sit and lay down in the crate too. To start with just leave the door open and then as they get comfortable being there you can practice opening and closing the door of the crate. As you work on building the length of time you can close the door you need to give them a food dispensing toy or a snuffle mat to keep them occupied. When they are happy being in the crate for half an hour with you in sight then you can start to go out of sight. The RSPCA has a great factsheet on this, they recommend that adult dogs with a good association with their crates should not be confined to their crate for more than three hours.
Are you thinking of getting a new dog? Are you considering adopting a rescue dog or choosing a new puppy?
Are you thinking of getting a new dog? Adopting a rescue dog or choosing a new puppy. What are the issues?
Rescue dogs may have unknown history, or just a history that lacks detail and that can put people off.
Some people are attracted to the idea that you can adopt an older dog and miss out on teething and toilet training and crate training. If you are adopting an older dog, they may also be calmer and may even be partly trained. If you choose an older dog, your dog may also have more of a stable, proven, temperament.
On the downside you may worry that you don’t know about their experiences during critical socialisation and imprinting stages. You may worry that you have missed out on some bonding time and that there may be more work to do than you expected. However, there are younger dogs and puppies available for rescue too.
You will know that you are giving a dog a home who otherwise wouldn’t have one.
Choosing a new puppy
Puppies are most often brought into the world for profit so there is always a risk that you may inadvertently support puppy farming. Even if you are careful and use a really ethical breeder you are still supporting intentionally bring more dogs into the world while rescue centres are full. Even if you give your puppy the best home, its unlikely that all of the litter from which you selected your puppy will get such a good home, and in reality the chances may be slim.
If you are choosing a puppy though, you do need to choose an ethical breeder, for the best chances of a balanced well socialised puppy. You may be excited about the blank canvass that you are getting from your breeder, and perhaps just a little distracted by the undeniable cuteness of it all. Remember that you may very quickly get a full-sized adolescent dog on your hands.
If you are choosing a new puppy you can select the specific breed you want with the traits, exercise requirements, shedding and temperament traits you are looking for. You may want a dog which is hypoallergenic or good for agility or needs very little exercise. The reality is though that even if you are careful with choosing the puppy you want, the genetics of each puppy can vary significantly across one litter so there are no guarantees that you won’t need to put in more work with behaviour and training than you are expecting. First time puppy owners often under-estimate the costs and time needed to care for a dog so if this is your first time do your research and even offer to look after a friends dog for the weekend.
What are the real issues?
Whether a rescue dog or a new puppy, one thing is for certain, investing in some training is one of the best ways of ensuring that you and your dog have a long and happy relationship. Missing out on training significantly increases the risk that your puppy or rescue dog will be surrendered in the future.
Whether rescue dog or a new puppy, they will need walking come rain and shine, there will be vets fees, training costs, vaccinations, boarding when you are on holiday and walking when you are at work. The best chances of us keeping rescue centres empty is to understand the commitment when we take on a dog.
Can you tell which of these lovely has been rehomed and which has been owned from a puppy?
[all from rescue or rehoming}
Why do some people travel hundreds of miles for their new puppy?
Did you know that the earliest impact on the development of the puppy will be the physical health, emotional state and nutritional status of the dam during pregnancy? Even after that the ongoing nutritional status of the dam during feeding and nutrition during weaning also impact on puppy development. On top of this, nutrition fed the dam during gestation coupled with the nutrition fed her new born pups up to 14 weeks could improve learning. So a happy, healthy mum means healthy pups!
The pups experiences while still with the breeder make a difference too. It’s been shown that gentle handling during this period can lead to greater emotional stability as the puppy grows. The littermates make a difference too, during the 3 – 7 week period they have a major influence on the development of playfulness, chase-proneness, fearfulness and even aggression. The puppy learns the basics of being part of a pack, the comfort of the presence of their littermates as well as the disadvantages at this stage.
Pups in this stage of development benefit from exposure to opportunities to explore and learn in areas away from their kennel. Puppies lacking these opportunities tended to become fearful of unfamiliar objects and were generally more withdrawn. It’s a delicate balance, as early experiences can adversely affect learning and must be used with caution i.e. avoid causing over-stimulation, fear or stress.
So choosing a good, reputable breeder is important. Go and visit the breeder and the puppies at least once before deciding to buy from them. Check some of the issues above, as well as looking at any required council registrations and genetic tests, before you are in too deep with puppy love.